Continuing Resolution Puts Vermont Conservation Programs on the Chopping Block

Without federal assistance to support state wildlife protection efforts, Vermont faces an uphill battle to keep the state’s wildlife habitats healthy and intact

04-05-2011 // Megan Blevins
bobcat research

Jon Kart describes the Northern Appalachian Ecosystem as one of the last places in the Northeast, US where wildlife can roam freely. Efforts to ensure the long-term viability of wildlife and wildlife habitat are guided by the Wildlife Action Plans. Kart, a fish and wildlife biologist at Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife Department, calls this one of the many successes of Vermont’s State Wildlife Grants, which provide funding for a variety of conservation, management and research programs that protect wildlife.

“Vermont’s Community Wildlife Program focuses on making every community’s land work for wildlife,” said Kart, touting the, program funded with State Wildlife Grants. The Community Wildlife Program provides towns and local commissions with professional experts to help them identify, value and protect wildlife habitats in their towns.

“This program helps communities incorporate wildlife goals into town plans, so every Vermonter can take part in protecting wildlife,” said Kart.

But federal funding for conservation efforts like Vermont’s Community Wildlife Program are on the chopping block under the House’s proposed Continuing Resolution (CR), leaving the future of many communities’ wildlife action plans up in the air.

If the House budget ‘Continuing Resolution’ passes, federal support for State Wildlife Grants and many other conservation programs would stop—dead in their tracks. Without federal assistance to support state wildlife protection efforts, Vermont faces an uphill battle to keep the state’s valuable wildlife habitats healthy and intact, Kart said. And that could have worse economic impacts.

“Wildlife is integral to the functioning of the ecosystems upon which we all depend, and two-thirds of Vermonters take part in wildlife-associated recreation,” said Kart. “These Vermonters, along with tourists who come to Vermont to enjoy our wildlife, add close to $400 million to our economy annually.”

Wildlife and Habitats at Risk

Other state-wide initiatives funded by the State Wildlife Grants Program, such as Critical Paths and Staying Connected in the Northern Appalachians, help prepare Vermonters to address the challenges facing local wildlife and habitats, and this is key to building support for long-term protections.  

“The State Wildlife Grants Program is the front-line defense for fish and wildlife, said George Gay, Senior Manager of the National Wildlife Federation’s Northeast Regional Center. It fuels on-the-ground field work that is essential to protect game and non-game species in the Green Mountain State. This includes cutting edge research, habitat conservation, and population analysis – the building blocks of our fish and wildlife management policies.”

Gay said the grants have supported critical research on habitat needs for bobcat, muskellunge, sturgeon, lake trout, loon, osprey, and dozens of other species across the state, which has led to better management.

“If the United States Congress fails to fund this essential program, Vermont’s ability to conserve its natural resource heritage will be severely compromised,” Gay said.

Bats with white nose syndrome

State Wildlife Grants and the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund also support research on how to help bats suffering from white-nose syndrome (pdf), a deadly new fungal disease that poses one of the most serious threats ever to bat populations.

“White nose syndrome is now a national crisis needing federal funds to implement the national plan to combat this disease. Without these funds, the necessary research, state assistance, and coordination will not happen. We must act now for there is no second chance,” said Scott Darling, wildlife biologist for Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife Department.

Another funding program that could fall victim to the budget fight falls under the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). The Act is an incentive based, landowner-friendly program that fosters the development of public-private partnerships to protect North America’s migratory bird habitat. 

The wetlands conservation act is a win-win for local economies. It not only creates jobs, but since its enactment, NAWCA grants have leveraged more than 3.4 billion in matching funds that have delivered a total of over 4.5 billion in on-the-ground conservation. The Act requires a 1:1 match to all funds, but federal funds are often tripled or quadrupled by partners at the local level. 

Osprey with fish

The NAWCA funds are used to fulfill the mission of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan by providing wetland-associated migratory birds with essential habitat. In Vermont, more than 120 animal and plants species of greatest conservation thrive thanks to these wetlands. This includes many rare, threatened and endangered animal and plant species, including plants like the sweet coltsfoot and rough cotton-grass, and birds such as the osprey and gray jay, and dragonflies like the black Meadowhawk.  

Kart, Gay, Darling and others in the conservation movement are hopeful that Vermont’s congressional lawmakers will find a way to rescue these programs for the future of wildlife protection.

“These funds not only help wildlife and natural places, but they enhance our quality of life here in Vermont,” said Kart.

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